The Poet X
By Elizabeth Acevedo
“A story that will slam the power of poetry and love back into your heart.” ~Laurie Halse Anderson
“Acevedo skillfully sculpts powerful, self-contained poems into a masterpiece of a story, and has amplified the voices of girls en el barrio who are equal parts goddess, saint, warrior, and hero.” ~Ibi Zoboi
Xiomara Batista is finding her voice. As the daughter of Dominican immigrants, the twin of “altar boy” and gentle young man Xavier who she calls “Twin,” a reluctant church-goer and lab partner to her new crush Aman, she navigates her emotions through poetry; and the novel, written in verse, emerges as a complete story.
I’m the only one in the family
without a biblical name.
Xiomara isn’t even Dominican.
I know, because I Googled it.
It means: One who is ready for war.
And truth be told, that description is about right
because I even tried to come into the world
in a fighting stance: feet first.
Had to be cut out of Mami
after she’d given birth
to my twin brother, Xavier, just fine.
And my name labors out of some people’s mouths
in that same awkward and painful way.
Until I have to slowly say:
I’ve learned not to flinch the first day of school
as teachers get stuck stupid trying to figure it out.
Mami says she thought it was a saint’s name.
Gave me this gift of battle and now curses
how well I live up to it.
My parents probably wanted a girl who would sit in the pews
wearing pretty florals and a soft smile.
They got combat boots and a mouth silent
until it’s sharp as an island machete (8-9).
As she deals with her older parents’ expectations for her, Xiomara asks questions about her world, her body, her studies, her faith. Her journal becomes an extension of her soul, and Twin is one of the only ones who understands this about her.
I stare at the pillar
in front of my pew
so I don’t have to look
as the mosaic of saints,
or the six-foot sculpture
of Jesus rising up from behind
the priest’s altar.
Even with the tambourine
and festive singing,
these days, church seems
less party and more prison (55).
When Ms. Galiano asks her to be part of the school’s poetry club, Xiomara finds the space and voice to work through the expectations placed upon her—by herself, her parents, her teachers, and her priest. She writes about confirmation classes that interfere with her poetry club, she writes about Twin, about how she is perceived by the outside world as well as her peers.
Is this what Ms. Galiano thinks
I’m going to do in her poetry club?
She mentioned competition,
and I know slam is just that,
but she can’t think that I,
who sits silently in her classroom,
who only speaks to get something off my back,
will ever get onstage
and say any of the things I’ve written,
out loud, to anybody else (78).
As her voice gets louder and stronger on paper, Xiomara’s words take on her heart and soul. She braves the resistance of her Mami, and the encouragement of her teacher, and shares herself.
At Poetry Club
I let everyone know I went to an open mic.
They seem amazed.
Ask me for details.
Tell me they want to go along
the next time I perform.
And I feel such a rush
at the way Isabelle grabs my hand and squeals.
The way Ms. Galiano smiles
like I did something to make her proud.
“How did you do?” Chris asks.
I shrug. “I didn’t suck.”
And everyone smiles,
because they know that means I killed it (286).
The genre of novels in verse intrigue and delight me as a reader. It feels like the use of the white space on the page also gives me the space to think and feel with the character. Acevedo has brought to life a character whom I would want to teach and know. The Poet X explores universals of growing up and the uniqueness of the individual. The window for me is a look at the conflicting and complementing worlds of this Dominican immigrant high school girl, though the mirror is one in which I see myself as complex and with relatable experiences as not only my former high school self, but as a human on the planet. During this National Poetry Month, I invite you to explore how novels can be told through verse.